All change please...

16th October 1998 at 01:00
It's up to teachers and pupils to influence the development of the Net, says Owen Lynch (right)

The Internet's pace of adoption eclipses all technologies before it. Radio existed for 38 years before it gained 50 million listeners and television took 13 years to reach that point. But the Internet crossed that line in four years: in 1994 three million people were connected and by March 1998 the figure was 119 million. Traffic on the Internet doubles every 100 days.

These figures indicate an astonishing rate of growth. Has there ever been a technology as dynamic and so potentially allied to learning and teaching? However, we must remind ourselves that while the pace of technological change is truly remarkable, the associated evolution of effective educational practice will require more time.

The National Grid for Learning is the Government's bid to exploit this new opportunity of communicating via technology - to develop the Grid as an educational resource to help improve educational standards and opportunities for all.

Key educationists are articulating what we might achieve. Some have described the Grid as a means of dissemination. Others, such as Professor Stephen Heppell of the Ultralab research unit and Professor Niki Davis of Exeter University, rightly point out that the Grid's real potential for education liesin its ability to deliver interactivecommunication.

The Grid has been called the most exciting thing to happen to education in a generation, but it is still very much in its infancy. Although the way forward is becoming apparent, there are no previous models we can look to. We should aim to create a flexible framework that allows for organic growth and active participation. The quality of the content will be crucial to the Grid's success and the lack of quality content available reflect its infancy.

While the Grid should address the real needs of teachers and students, it must also allow them to influence its development. The Grid will not succeed if the process does not allow teachers and students to input their creativity and energy.

The Grid for Learning, unlike the National Grid, will not provide power instantly. What is derived from the Grid will depend on what teachers andstudents put into it and how they use it.

Teachers will soon have significant opportunities for in-service training. The Teacher Training Agency will ensure that the training focuses on the effective educational use of information and communications technology and not merely on ICT capability.

However, teachers need personal access to the technology, particularly at home, and access to quality exemplars and research to guide and refine their practice.

After the initial development of the Grid there will be the need to sustain its growth. This will provide a challenge to schools, colleges and business. The developing partnership between these sectors needs to allow schools and colleges to concentrate on the educational issues while the commercial world develops the technical infrastructure. The creativity and energy of business will be vital to the Grid's success.

The future pace of the Grid's development will depend on the educational community's willingness to change the way it works. We will not grasp the opportunity if teachers and students do not develop their ability to access effectively the new resources available.

Schools will need to become more flexible and redefine their partnerships with local communities, exploring the continuity of learning between the home and school and develop a more flexible learning day.

The Government has responded to Sir Dennis Stevenson's exhortation for a leap of imagination backed by financial investment following the report on ICT he undertook for the Labour Party while it was in opposition. In so doing the Government has provided an extraordinary opportunity and challenge to generate new education opportunities.

Success is not guaranteed. So often in the past remarkable technology has not reached its full potential in education. The National Grid for Learning is for your children, your classrooms and your homes. We all need to be committed to making it work and ensure that its educational opportunities are fulfilled and, most importantly, accessible to all.

Owen Lynch is chief executive of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency

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